Homeboy Sandman: A Rapper Leaves Law Behind

Dec 19, 2012
Originally published on December 19, 2012 3:43 pm

The bare facts of Homeboy Sandman's back story don't sound very hip-hop: prep school in New Hampshire, Ivy League B.A., even some pieces for The Huffington Post. But, as is often the case with class and race in America, bare facts don't tell the whole story.

Sandman's Dominican-born father was a gifted heavyweight who quit boxing to become a lawyer. His Puerto Rican mom graduated from college around the time her son was winning his third scholarship, this time to law school. He eventually left school to pursue rapping full time, and five years later, he now makes a comfortable living touring the U.S. and Europe, even if his four albums have barely charted.

The rapper, born Angel Del Villar II, grew up in an intensely multiracial neighborhood in Queens where hip-hop was everywhere — but as pop music, rather than a prescription for living. He heard it on the block, but he also got into it via a supportive extended family, whose presence he evokes in "For the Kids," a standout track on his fourth album, First of a Living Breed.

Homeboy Sandman is an unapologetic moralist who won't rap about guns or accept liquor sponsorships. But, in contrast to all too many independent hip-hoppers, his sense of play helps his moralism go down. His delivery has a drawling, almost shy-seeming lilt that's way too sharp lyrically to pass off as soft.

A few of the songs on First of a Living Breed are pretty leisurely, but don't think Sandman can't rev up his flow. In the rapid-fire scattershot of "Watchu Want from Me," he skips directly from a romantic kiss-off to a brief explanation of how kids end up in jail. And, true to his hip-hop game, he sounds like he's having fun doing it.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

New York City rapper Homeboy Sandman dropped out of law school to rap full time. Five years later, he's found some success, even if his four albums have barely registered on the charts, ad our music critic, Robert Christgau, thinks that his take on hip-hop is worth a listen.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU, BYLINE: The bear facts of Homeboy Sandman's back-story don't sound very hip-hop: prep school in New Hampshire, Ivy League B.A., even some pieces for The Huffington Post. But as so often with class and race in America, bare facts don't tell the whole story.

Sandman's Dominican-born father was a gifted heavyweight who quit boxing to become a lawyer. His Puerto Rican mom graduated from college around when her son was winning his third scholarship to the law school he left to pursue a career in the arts. He now makes a comfortable living touring the U.S. and Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ILLUMINATI")

HOMEBOY SANDMAN: (Rapping) All you see is shop and save sales. Where's the dough you sent to try and save whales? Well, that was took and added to the money from the breast cancer walk. Who knows what's the answer to what it bought? The grief of what you have been wrought was all for naught. It's too high a cost trying to save the orphans to keep them off the lawn. The war on drugs been going on for awful long. These folks married to the game instead of dating off and on. But there's no poppy fields in Harlem. Look around. For some reason, all the brown ninos turn to nino browns. We used to beat...

CHRISTGAU: Homeboy Sandman grew up in an intensely multiracial neighborhood of Queens where hip-hop was everywhere, but as pop music rather than a road map for living. He heard it on the block, but he also got into it via a supportive extended family he evokes in a song called "For the Kids" from his fourth album, "First of a Living Breed."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR THE KIDS")

SANDMAN: (Rapping) Little black girl, your hair is beautiful. You could leave it natural. It's suitable. Forgive the adults that try to get you to burn it. They've got self-image issues. Turn off the TV and go to sleep. You're not an ugly duckling. You're a swan. I know you think that being different makes you weak, but being different makes you strong. This is for you.

CHRISTGAU: Homeboy Sandman is an unapologetic moralist who won't promote guns or accept liquor sponsorships. But in contrast to all too many independent hip-hoppers, his sense of play helps his moralism go down. His delivery has a drawling, almost shy-seeming lilt that's way too sharp lyrically to pass off as soft.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT REALLY")

SANDMAN: (Rapping) When people ask me if my life changed, here's what I might say: Not really. Not really. As far as money, I was always out. Now, it's always money coming in. I never worry about money now. I never worry about money then. I still don't let nothing go to waste. Leftovers any given day. I spend about the same. There's just a lot more leftover to give away.

CHRISTGAU: The samples of "First of a Living Breed" I played have been pretty leisurely, but don't think Homeboy Sandman can't rev up his flow. The rapid-fire scattershot of "Watchu Want from Me" skips directly from a romantic kiss-off to an explanation of how kids end up in jail. And true to his hip-hop game, he sounds like he's having fun doing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHATCHU WANT FROM ME")

SANDMAN: (Rapping) Who was saying this nation's indivisible? I don't care what they say or if they paid. Cats is miserable. Chilling while them chilling in jails to take a visit to. They was put there by cops who can't pass a physical. Ain't no beg your pardon, barging...

SIEGEL: Homeboy Sandman's fourth album is called "First of a Living Breed." Our critic is Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHATCHU WANT FROM ME")

SANDMAN: (Rapping) ...the days are biblical. So whatchu want from me? Whatchu want? Whatchu want from me? Whatchu want? Whatchu want from me? Whatchu want? Whatchu want from me? Whatchu want? Whatchu want from me? Whatchu want? Whatchu want from me? Whatchu want? What you from me? Whatchu want? Whatchu want from me? Whatchu want?

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues right after this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.